Baring my Soul

Just for a minute, because I need to vent. If you don’t like bare souls, this’d be a great time to click away and find a funny cat picture or something.

I get a lot of guff for being the stereotypical “sensitive guy.” In every good and bad sense. My ego bruises easily, I cry over little birds that flew in front of my car and died, I lose it when I watch sad videos on YouTube, and I take a lot of things personally that I shouldn’t. And I’m feeling a little slighted about something right now, and I shouldn’t. It happens, I’m making too much of it, and I need to get past it.

A number of years ago, I was working as a sales rep … yeah, me, a sales rep. I know. But I was — and at least it was for an audio networking company. At the time my beloved siamese cat, dB, was very sick. He was 12 years old and I’d raised him from a tiny kitten, and he now had a tumor. We were pretty sure we were going to have to put him down that week, and I could barely keep myself together. I made the mistake of mentioning it to someone at work, someone who didn’t really know me very well. The next day, I walked in to find a cartoon image of my face on the whiteboard in our small office, with a speech bubble drawn next to it of me plaintively calling my cat’s name.

I never said a word. To acknowledge that drawing, or even to erase it, would be to admit that I’d let it hurt me. So I left that damned thing there. The whiteboard wasn’t used much; that drawing stayed there until we moved out of that building, and I ignored it. Or tried to, but it was right in my eye line when I was on the phone making sales calls. I wasn’t about to give it power over me.

Thing is, whoever did that probably wasn’t trying to be an ass. He probably was just trying to make light of a situation that, to him, couldn’t possibly be anything heavy in the first place. Men don’t get upset over things like that. So he just assumed it was okay to joke about. Only to me, it wasn’t.

I did a lot of work with a group of tropical birds at a renaissance faire near Atlanta when we lived there. For several weekends a year my wife and I would go run this walk-in aviary where people could see the birds up-close and interact with them, and we would handle the birds for them. We’re bird people — I’ve been handling and training parrots and cockatoos for many years, and we have five birds of our own, so our help was in demand. It was great fun, and those birds became treasured friends, but they also taught me a lot. These creatures with huge, powerful beaks were usually very gentle when I handled them, holding onto a finger with amazing tenderness when they could also lop said finger right off quite easily. That taught me trust, showing me that just because someone can hurt you, you shouldn’t assume that they will. And the occasional bite I did get, usually accidental or motivated by fear or panic,  taught me that just because someone hurts you doesn’t mean they meant to, or that they’re not your friend. Lessons like that, for a kinda-sorta Asperger’s-tending guy like me, are hard to learn.

So I spend a lot of my time these days reminding myself that just because someone snubs me, or ignores me, or seems unfeeling or unkind, I shouldn’t make assumptions about what thoughts or feelings are behind those actions. But it’s hard for me. Even after nearly 10 years with my wife, Allison, I sometimes misinterpret things, or ascribe words or actions to feelings or thoughts that aren’t necessarily there at all. She chides me for this — usually patiently, sometimes not —  but it still happens. I’m incorrigibly, insufferably thin-skinned in some ways, while I’m positive, outgoing, assertive, and confident in other ways. Welcome to the puzzle. All the pieces are here, somewhere. And a lot of them are two-sided.

All things considered, I think the way I am is in many ways preferable to the other extreme. I’m not sure what it would even be like, going through life not really giving a damn what anyone thinks of me, or says or does to me.  But what if I couldn’t tell, or couldn’t read it on their faces? I read a book last year, Mark Haddon’s “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” which is written from the point of view of an autistic boy. It made me wonder what it would be like to have the typically autistic inability to connect facial expressions and actions to what people are feeling. Nobody would ever “look annoyed” or “look bored” or “look angry” to me … they’d have to actually tell me what they were feeling, or I would have no idea. Wouldn’t that be, in a certain strange way, refreshing? No face-reading or mannerism interpretation would be needed, or even possible! There would only be words, a medium with which I’ve always been proficient and extremely comfortable.

I shall re-clothe my soul now. Thanks.

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